Mud before the marathon

“This upside-down, inside-out version of running where the streets and roads are just passing distractions in a search for those places where the running is dirty and uneven, where the world’s natural disorder sparkles and rushes, bends and cracks. Running without blinkers on”.

One of my New Year Resolutions this year was to enter the Leeds Half-Marathon. So back in early Jan I filled in the entry form, paid my £34 (!) and the clock is now ticking to May the 14th.

Not that I’m a massive fan of road running, particularly not 13 miles of it. I did some 10ks a few years ago, but generally I prefer to get off the roads and onto the trails and hills. So why the Resolution?

We live pretty much on the Half-Marathon route, and on every second Sunday in May the road is closed for a couple of hours in the morning. So it’s always seemed rather churlish not to stand on the pavement, witness the spectacle of 10,000 people going past and give encouragement. I’ve done this for many years now and each year I’ve felt a bit more like participating, rather than just spectating. Finally, this year, it was time to give it a go.

Version 2It was only after entering that I actually began thinking about what preparing for and running a half-marathon entailed. Conventionally, several weeks of running on the roads in advance. And then the big day itself – 2 hours of plod, plod, plod along the streets (and that’s presuming all goes well). The prospect wasn’t exactly grabbing me.

But I’m glad to say I’ve rediscovered my enthusiasm. For this I have a couple of books to thank (and Leeds Libraries for having them in stock!) – both similarly-titled and on a similar theme: Running Free by Richard Askwith and Run Wild by Boff Whalley.

The key message of both books is simply that running should, more than anything else, be about fun and adventure. Not about watching the clock, shaving seconds off your PB or about doing something you somehow feel you should be doing. Rather, it should just be about enjoyment, the sheer pleasure that comes from getting out there and running about, much as we did as kids.

So, I’m now seeing preparing for the Half-Marathon as an opportunity to return to the kind of running I like doing best – off-road, up and down, through woods, fields, mud and streams. Fortunately, we have a natural playground on our doorstep in Meanwood – the Meanwood Valley – and I’ve been making the most of what the valley has to offer.

Actually, just recently, it’s been a whole lot of mud, particularly the stretch north of the ring road through Adel Woods. It’s been great not to be put off by the cut-up paths and puddles, if anything to seek them out. In fact, winter muddy running feels like yet another great discovery about the Meanwood Valley. Good job I’ve got an outside tap at home though!

So do take a read of the books if you can. The quote at the top is taken from Ch.31 of Boff’s book, describing a run he took up Meanwood Valley in 1986. I’m glad to say it’s still like that now.

As to 14 May itself, fingers crossed the preparation will allow me to enjoy it the best I can. But already I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be both my first and last half-marathon.

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A sorry tale indeed

Despite the withdrawal of Leeds Rugby’s planning application back in December, the Tetley Field saga drags on, and the threat of housing development next to Meanwood Park remains.

Back on 8 February, Leeds City Council’s Executive Board (following a request from its Development Plans Panel for legal clarification) declined to remove Tetley Field from the draft Site Allocations Plan (SAP). This despite vocal protest from the Leaders of both opposition parties. Very disappointingly, one of our own Councillors representing Meanwood, Cllr Charlwood (a member of the Executive Board), failed to comment in support of Tetley Field, despite around 500 residents of Moortown ward having objected to last year’s planning application.

The Council has justified its decision on the following grounds:

  1. The risk of delays to the SAP process.
  2. The need for Leeds to meet its overall housing target.
  3. The threat of legal challenge from Leeds Rugby.

These “justifications” can be reasonably challenged as follows:

  1. Of the hundreds of sites put forward in the SAP, Tetley Field is a unique case. From 2013-15 it was consistently assessed by Council officers as providing a Green Belt function, ie unsuitable for housing. This assessment was only changed as a direct consequence of Leeds Rugby’s offer to put the proceeds of any sale of the land with planning permission towards the redevelopment of Headingley Stadium. No other site in the SAP has been re-assessed on the basis of such an offer (indeed, only one other site has been re-assessed at all). Thus the removal of Tetley Field from the SAP would have no impact on the overall soundness of the SAP and the process of its adoption could continue without delay.
  2. The Tetley Field site is proposed for an allocation of just 30 to 40 properties, out of an overall target for Leeds of 66,000. It is preposterous to suggest that the removal of Tetley Field from the SAP would have any impact on the city’s ability to deliver its housing target.
  3. The threat of protest and legal challenge from the community is equally real.

More details on these points can be found in this letter from Weetwood Residents Association to Executive Board members, dated 4 February. The key point to remember is that back in May 2015 the Council changed its assessment of the site only as a result of the offer from Leeds Rugby – an overtly transparent attempt at “post- rationalisation”. In fact, the important Green Belt function that Tetley Field currently performs, protecting Meanwood Park and the wider Meanwood Valley Green Corridor, has been massively reiterated by the 1000+ Objections to the subsequent planning application.

While the future of Tetley Field hangs in the balance, an increasingly common question being asked is “what do people really want for Tetley Field in the future?” To answer this question, I have drafted a Vision Statement for Tetley Field, which is based on all the lengthy written Objections made to the planning application (which I, more fool me, took the trouble of reading last year). The clear and consistent message that emerges from the Objections is that people want the Field to remain essentially as it is – an open space for informal recreation, only with fully-legitimate public access (unlike the existing de facto access).

For this reason, my view is that the best way forward for both the Council and Leeds Rugby is for the land to be sold at recreational value to either the Council or a third party organisation dedicated to the public interest (such as Wade’s Charity, which already owns several pieces of land in Leeds for this purpose). The Meanwood Valley Green Corridor as it is now is essentially a series of linked open spaces bequeathed to the city by previous distinguished landowners (eg Beckett, Oates, Kitson-Clark). Adding Tetley Field to this list not only represents the best outcome for the community, but also the remaining opportunity for Leeds City Council and Leeds Rugby to emerge with any credit at all from this sorry tale.

If you are alarmed by the ongoing threat to Tetley Field, write to your Councillors and MP. And keep an eye on the Save Tetley Field Campaign website and Facebook page for more updates.

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The clear view into Tetley Field from Meanwood Park. The potential impact on the Park from development on Tetley Field is obvious (Photo: Rachael Munro-Fawcett).